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Risky drinking - tips for cutting back

People with risky drinking patterns drink more alcohol than is considered medically safe. Risky drinkers have a higher risk of going on to abuse alcohol and become dependent on alcohol.

Some habits of risky drinkers are drinking:

  • Many times per month, or even per week
  • 3 - 4 drinks, or more, on a typical day
  • 5 or more drinks on one occasion monthly, or even weekly

Ways to Cut Back

Watch your drinking patterns more closely and plan ahead. This can help you cut back on your alcohol use.

Keep track of how much you drink and set some goals. To do this:

  • Track how many drinks you have during the week on a small card in your wallet or on your calendar, or on your smartphone.
  • Know how much alcohol is in a standard drink. One standard drink is a 12-ounce can of bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, a wine cooler, or 1 cocktail or shot of hard liquor.

When you are drinking:

  • Pace yourself. Have no more than one alcoholic drink each hour. Sip on water, soda, or juice in between drinks with alcohol.
  • Eat some food before drinking and between drinks.

To control how much you drink:

  • Stay away from people or places that make you drink when you do not want to drink, or do not want to drink more than you should.
  • Plan other activities that do not involve drinking for days when you have the urge to drink.
  • Keep alcohol out of your home, if needed.
  • Make a plan to handle your urges to drink. Remind yourself of why you do not want to drink, or talk to someone you trust.
  • Create a polite but firm way of refusing a drink when you are offered one.

Getting Help from Others

Make an appointment with your health care provider to talk about your drinking.

You and your health care provider can make a plan for you either to stop or cut back on your drinking. Your health care provider will:

  • Explain how much alcohol will be safe for you to drink
  • Ask if you have often been feeling sad or nervous
  • Help you figure out what else about your life may be causing you to drink too much
  • Tell you where you can get more support for cutting back or quitting alcohol

Ask for support from people who may be willing to listen and help, such as a spouse or significant other, or nondrinking friends.Your place of work may have a program where you can seek help without needing to tell anyone at work about your drinking.

Some other resources where you can seek information or support for alcohol problems include:


Bush K,Kivlahan DR,McDonellMB,FihnSD, Bradley KA. The AUDIT alcohol consumption questions (AUDIT-C): an effective brief screening test for problem drinking. Ambulatory Care Quality Improvement Project (ACQUIP). Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. Arch Intern Med. 1998; 158(16):1789–1795.

In the clinic. Alcohol use. Ann Intern Med. 2009 Mar 3;150(5).

Updated: 5/17/2012

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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